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Obesity in dogs

It is becoming more and more common for dogs to be overweight. You may not worry if your dog is a little round, but even being slightly overweight can affect a dog's health, and even shorten its lifespan. Being overweight is typically defined as when a dog weighs 10-20% more than their ideal body weight. It is termed obesity if a dog weighs over 20% more than their ideal body weight.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Normal weight in dogs

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is a quick and simple way to assess a dog's health and ideal weight. A chart to show you how to measure your dog’s BCS can be found here. It is best to assess your dog’s body condition score every 2-4 weeks throughout their life so that you always know whether or not they are a healthy weight. The PDSA also provides guidance on food and fitness for a healthy dog. BCS 4-5/9 is ideal weight and is usually characterised by the following:

  • Ribs should be felt with a light touch, without being clearly visible
  • Waist should be clearly visible when looking at the dog from above
  • Abdominal line should be slightly raised when looking at the dog from the side
  • Vertebrae should be felt at the base of the tail


Causes of obesity in dogs

Some breeds become overweight more easily than others. However, all dogs can become overweight if they are given too much food in relation to their energy consumption. If the dog gets a lot of leftover food, or treats with a high fat content in addition to their usual food, the risk of obesity increases.

As dogs age they need less calories and will gain weight more easily, similarly to dogs who have been neutered.

Dogs with painful conditions, such as osteoarthritis, or older dogs, may struggle with daily exercise, and are therefore at increased risk of weight gain. Neutered dogs are at higher risk of becoming overweight as their metabolism decreases in connection with castration.

Obesity can also be caused by hormonal diseases such as hypothyroidism, or overproduction of cortisol (Cushing's disease). Some medicines can also cause an increased appetite, so a carefully measured daily food ration is essential for these dogs.


Consequences of obesity in dogs

Fat (adipose) tissue is actually a large hormonal organ that produces several different hormones that cause chronic, low-grade inflammation throughout the body. Obesity can therefore lead to several different disease states such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, a weakened immune system, pancreatitis, and high blood pressure, to name a few. In addition, the risks of anaesthesia in obese animals is increased compared to healthy-weight animals. Obese bitches post-whelping find it more difficult to feed their puppies. Overweight animals also do not tolerate exercise and heat as well as healthy-weight animals.


Treatment of obesity in dogs

Keeping a close eye on your dog’s waistline will help to prevent extra weight gain. Many vet practices have weight clinics, with nurses who are trained in nutrition. These clinics are a very helpful way to learn how to make a weight reduction plan and help your dog lose weight. Depending on your dog’s age, the nurse or the vet will also be able to discuss a blood test to check your dog’s thyroid hormone levels.

Weight loss can be achieved by changing what you feed, how much you feed, how you feed and when you feed. If your dog has a body condition score greater than 5/9, they need to lose excess fat. If appropriate, exercise is a key part of any weight loss plan.

What are you feeding your dog? There are lots of obesity and weight loss diets on the market. It is always best to change the food gradually, over a couple of weeks, to avoid any problems. Please note that these diets are not suitable for young dogs that are still growing. Diets include:

  • Purina: Proplan OM Obesity Management
  • Hills: Metabolic, w/d and r/d
  • Royal Canin: Obesity Management, Satiety, Weight Control

Here are our top tips for achieving your dog’s weight loss goals; everyone in the household must be involved!

  1. Who: choose one person in the household to set the quantity of food and feeding routine
  2. What and when: look at what you feed, how much you feed, how you feed, how often you feed and when you feed. Considering all elements of feeding will give you more weight management options
  3. Weigh out the daily food allowance using scales. All training treats must come from this bowl, rather than being an addition to it
  4. Measure and record your dog’s weight weekly in a way the whole family can see. Also, use a tape measure directly behind the elbows, and directly in front of the knees
  5. Reminders placed around the house will tell the whole family that your dog is on a diet
  6. Remove temptation and hide away all the dog treats
  7. Discourage friends, colleagues and other dog walkers from feeding your dog treats
  8. Use a ‘Kong’, or scatter feed, to slow down your dog’s eating and reduce the pleading eyes for more
  9. Indoor and outdoor exercises will encourage further weight loss as well as improve muscular strength
  10. Remember that weight loss is more effective with dietary change than increased exercise

The Canine Arthritis Management website also has some useful tips and advice for weight loss.


Get advice from an experienced vet

  • If you notice that your dog is overweight
  • If your dog is not losing weight despite the advice above

Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our FirstVet vets. Every dog is different, so they will be able to discuss specifically how best to manage your dog’s weight, exercise and nutrition.

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